Claudia Cavalluzzo: Our world-beating universities lead the way in entrepreneurship

Dr Jan Mumme, CEO of Edinburgh firm Carbogenics and Lidia Krzynowek, Business Development Manager,  were winners of the Converge Challenge 2018
Dr Jan Mumme, CEO of Edinburgh firm Carbogenics and Lidia Krzynowek, Business Development Manager, were winners of the Converge Challenge 2018
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This week marks Global Entrepreneurship Week and a time to celebrate the three Is – innovation, inspiration and invention. Every country has a reason for celebrating entrepreneurship and most will be marking the occasion by bringing business invention and creative mindset into sharp focus.

Certainly, here in Scotland and on the back of the very recent Converge Challenge final held at the end of the September in Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms, we have a lot to ­celebrate. Our world-class universities and a highly interconnected entrepreneurial ­ecosystem offer an enviable and ­fertile environment to support ­nascent businesses.

Claudia Cavalluzzo is Interim Director of Converge Challenge

Claudia Cavalluzzo is Interim Director of Converge Challenge

There is a robust appetite for ­invention across our universities and research institutes, with an ­abundance of ideas generated and crystallised into new products and services.

However, the reality remains that a transition into securing growth ­capital and marketing channels on a global scale still is a daunting ­challenge for many.

We at Converge Challenge, Scotland’s leading company creation and entrepreneurial development programme for universities and research institutes, are playing our part.

Our programme gives staff and ­students an opportunity to explore the commercial potential of their inventions and a platform to ­celebrate the best and brightest ­business ideas.

Indeed, support for our academics to flourish as entrepreneurs is vital. Several universities already provide a framework that encourages developments without imposing unduly restrictive limitations within which the work takes place.

Striking a balance on key issues such as ownership of intellectual property can be a fine balance in order to ensure both parties receive due recognition.

Scotland is well-placed in this respect. It has a range of very ­supportive commercialisation departments within its universities where experienced staff work with budding entrepreneurs and their nascent companies to ­crystallise their pioneering research into ­commercially viable propositions.

The University of Edinburgh is a great example of this, with the ­institution securing all the top prizes at this year’s Converge Challenge final.But Edinburgh is not the only ­university which understands the importance of entrepreneurial ­activities within an academic institution.

Robert Gordon University has just opened a start-up accelerator ­programme, funded by the Wood Foundation. The programme will support and fund at least 25 start-up teams a year in Aberdeen and North East Scotland in a range of industry areas.

Queen Margaret University has also launched a business innovation zone to provide a focus for enterprise ­creation activities that they ­promise will bring a step-change in their entrepreneurial culture.

Heriot Watt University is building a discovery and innovation centre where all entrepreneurial activities will come together, led by an ­experienced chief entrepreneurial executive, the first role of this kind within a Scottish academic institution.

We can cite other aspirant ­programmes run by The Scottish Institute for Enterprise, the John Logie Baird Awards for Innovation, Scottish Knowledge Exchange Awards and Interface – the Knowledge Connection for Business, amongst many more. They ­encourage and enable academic entrepreneurs to proactively demonstrate their vision for ground-breaking products and discoveries which have the potential to touch many lives across the globe.

The importance and significance of the role played by Converge Challenge in Scotland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has been acknowledged and ­recognised by the Scottish ­Government.

A succession of ­ministers, most notably Nicola Sturgeon, have ­given the keynote speech at the Converge Challenge final, where they have stressed the importance and ­value the Scottish Government places on the programme as a platform to celebrate Scottish ­innovation and achievements.

Therefore, Global Entrepreneurship Week gives us time to reflect on this. We are, after all, a small ­country, but we think big. We can be proud of our ability to continuously create and innovate.

But we also know that we need to do more to collectively ­encourage and support the growth of our vibrant start-ups to make a real difference to the economy. Our universities remain the springboard that ­propels new ideas, to ­create new business and attract investment. That, coupled with the appropriate support training ­programmes, has the potential to place Scotland on the global ­entrepreneurial map.

Claudia Cavalluzzo is interim ­director of Converge Challenge – www.convergechallenge.com